Gulpilil - One Red Blood: 'My father's country'

Gulpilil - One Red Blood: 'My father's country'
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Footage of David, Robyn – David’s traditional law wife – and their children in Ramingining. Sweeping aerial views of the ever-widening river that David needs to cross to reach David’s father’s country. Archival footage of Aboriginal people in a mission with David’s voice-over narrating about the first time he saw a white person. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

A generous film that is the result of a collaboration between the subject (David Gulpilil) and the filmmaker (Darlene Johnson). Gulpilil invites us into his world, and offers a narrative that attempts to translate between Indigenous world view and Western sensibility. The title of the film One Red Blood is Gulipilil’s declaration of connectedness, of the world beyond the human experience, of all creatures belonging to the same inhabitable world of the Dreaming.

This film is important in that it speaks about Indigenous philosophy expressed by Gulpilil as being of 'one red blood’ and is comparable to the Eastern philosophical tradition of the presence of the Divine in all things. Such insight into Indigenous world view is seldom expressed, and his capacity to do so ensures that David Gulpilil continues to be a person – culturally and creatively – of incredible artistic significance to Indigenous peoples and Australian society alike. One Red Blood is Gulpilil’s story, a time for Gulpilil – after extensive filmic experience – to speak directly to the world as himself, rather than through the characters through which he has become known locally and internationally. Gulpilil’s filmography includes films such as WalkaboutStormboyTracker and The Proposition.

This program has also screened on NITV, National Indigenous Television.


Gulpilil: One Red Blood Synopsis

A documentary about the career of Indigenous actor, dancer, and cultural delegate, David Gulpilil, using interview as well as archival footage.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education Notes

This clip shows Indigenous actor David Gulpilil with his family at Ramingining in north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Gulpilil describes his father’s country, growing up in the bush, his first encounter with white people, being educated at the Maningrida mission school, and the effect that contact with non-Indigenous people has had on the Indigenous community in this area. The clip includes sweeping aerial shots of north-eastern Arnhem Land, archival footage of the mission, Gulpilil’s narration and evocative music featuring Indigenous chants.

Educational value points

  • David Gulpilil’s Yolngu identity and his sense of belonging in his own country are emphasised in the clip, and he is shown against a background of the river and the place where he was born. He explains the origins of his name by referring to the river, the waterfall and his father’s country. He says that every time he looks at the river he is reminded of who he is. Traditional music and singing enhance the sense of Yolngu culture and identity.
  • Gulpilil is shown with his extended family. He explains that he and his wife Robyn, seen here with some of their children, were promised to each other by tribal law. There are shots of people around a camp cooking and the sound of people talking in their traditional language in the background. Family continuity is stressed when Gulpilil talks of how he remembers travelling with his father and mother and family when he was young.
  • The clip conveys a strong sense of loss and alienation in Gulpilil’s life, especially after his parents died and he went to mission school. He recalls his childhood and the changes that occurred, saying ‘I was a lost child’. When he refers to the difficulty in crossing the river, he implies that he cannot return to the way things were when he was young.
  • The clip contrasts Gulpilil’s early life with the changed conditions brought by contact with non-Indigenous people. Over footage of the scenery, Gulpilil says, ‘this land was empty, you know. It was beautiful’. He refers to cigarettes, ganja (marijuana) and grog, suggesting that contact with non-Indigenous people resulted in these drugs causing problems that had not existed when ‘it was just the fresh water and that’s it’, and he and his people ‘could walk and live in this land’.
  • David Gulpilil is an award-winning Australian actor and an Elder of the Yolngu people, whose homelands are in north-eastern Arnhem Land. He grew up in the bush and his skills as an accomplished hunter, tracker and ceremonial dancer have featured in his films. His invitation to filmmaker Rolf de Heer to visit Ramingining and spend time exploring his traditional lands resulted in the two collaborating on Ten Canoes (2006), a film featuring Yolngu culture, traditions, country, language and performers.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production Company:
Jotz Productions
Tom Zubrycki
Darlene Johnson
Darlene Johnson, David Gulpilil
David Gulpilil